39Doomsday Clock39 The threats identified by scientists who calculate the

'Doomsday Clock': The threats identified by scientists who calculate the time for the 'end of the world'

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  • Author, Jane Corbin
  • Scroll, from BBC News
  • 2 hours ago

The “Doomsday Clock,” which symbolically shows how close the world is to an apocalypse, will continue to show 90 seconds to midnight the same “time” as last year.

The scientists responsible for the project have listed the reasons why the hands are still on the verge of “judgment day.”

The danger of a new nuclear arms race, the war in Ukraine and concerns about climate change are the main factors, it is said.

The clock is adjusted each year by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Midnight represents the limit to the apocalypse.

Since 2007, scientists have been addressing the impact of new manmade risks such as artificial intelligence (AI) and climate change, as well as the greatest threat of all: nuclear war.

In the 2024 “adjustment of hands” made on Tuesday (January 23), the bulletin states that China, Russia and the US are investing enormous amounts of money to “expand or modernize their nuclear arsenals” adding to the “ omnipresent danger of nuclear war due to misjudgments”.

The war in Ukraine also poses a “permanent risk of nuclear escalation,” the scientists said.

The report also points to a lack of action to curb climate change and the risks associated with the “misuse” of new biological technologies and artificial intelligence tools.

The Doomsday Clock was created in 1947 by Robert Oppenheimer and other American scientists who developed the atomic bomb.

Two years earlier, at the end of World War II, atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had devastating effects.

The scientists' intent in developing the clock was to alert the public and put pressure on world leaders to ensure that nuclear weapons would never be used again.

The clock's hands have moved 25 times throughout history. In 1947 they began at seven minutes to midnight. By the end of the Cold War in 1991, it had fallen to 17 minutes to midnight.

President of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Rachel Bronson, told the BBC that “all major countries, including the UK, are investing in their nuclear arsenal as if nuclear weapons could be used for a long time.”

“This is a very dangerous time…leaders are not acting responsibly,” Bronson said.

Pavel Podvig, a Russian nuclear weapons expert who has been involved in the Doomsday Clock project for many years, says he was shocked when Russian President Vladimir Putin put nuclear forces on alert after the invasion of Ukraine.

The world reacted with horror to the Russian leader's threat, but it appears that this was a conscious calculation on Putin's part.

“That’s exactly what nuclear weapons are for to ensure that you have a certain degree of freedom of action,” says Podvig.

“The Russian president believed that with these statements he could dissuade the West from intervening in Ukraine, which was a correct calculation that's how deterrence works.”

Despite decades of arms control agreements, there are still around 13,000 nuclear warheads worldwide, 90% of them Russian and American. Six other countries are considered nuclear powers: the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Israel is believed to have these weapons, but this has never been officially confirmed. Most modern nuclear weapons are many times more powerful than those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In 2021, the United Kingdom increased its warhead limit from 225 to 260. The country's nuclear forces are on high alert.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, senior Russian officials have suggested that Moscow's nuclear weapons could be used against the United Kingdom.

The UK's nuclear deterrent facilities are located in the west of Scotland at the Faslane base, which houses four Vanguard submarines with Trident missiles armed with nuclear warheads.


HMS Vigilant, one of the United Kingdom's Vanguard submarines

Feargal Dalton, a former lieutenant who served aboard the submarine HMS Victorious, is one of the few people who has actually fired a Trident missile: a test missile with a dummy warhead.

“There is always one [submarino] “Somewhere out there with 15 minutes’ warning to fire,” Dalton says. “Right now there is a nuclear deterrent. The Vladimir Putins of the world know it exists, it is real and we could use it if necessary.”

There has been resistance to these weapons since the invention of the atomic bomb.

In the 1980s, British women founded a peace camp network called Greenham Common Peace Camps, which fought for the removal of all US nuclear missiles from British soil they were completely removed in 2008.


British women protest against nuclear weapons

At the British air base in Lakenheath, a group called the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) is still protesting against the possibility of returning American weapons.

Pentagon documents first published by the Federation of American Scientists suggest that “special” US weapons will be stationed at the base.

US fighter jets capable of carrying these weapons arrived in Lakenheath in 2021. Now there are plans by the US Air Force to build dormitories at this location for its troops to be used in the event of a possible nuclear attack.

“We know we have public opinion on our side,” says CND’s Sophie Bolt as her small group chants slogans near the base.

“Almost 60% of the population do not want nuclear bombs to be installed in Britain.”


The British base at Lakenheath houses American fighters

“We have nothing to do with this base, it is completely under US control,” said Alan Wright, another protester.

“If you say [Donald] Trump card [na Casa Branca] in the next election and he pushes the button just because he has a bigger button than Putin then we become a target.”

Former president and candidate Donald Trump said he would end the war in Ukraine within 24 hours of his election, but did not explain how. Some analysts believe that in the scenario of a Republican victory, US support for Ukraine could decrease.

Over the last decade, fears of nuclear war have also been stoked by Kim JongUn, the leader of North Korea, the latest country to join the nuclear club. He bragged about testing nuclearcapable missiles that could reach the United States.

Sig Hecker, a former Bulletin of Atomic Scientists member and Doomsday Clock consultant, has visited North Korea's nuclear facilities seven times as part of a scientific research program and estimates that the country may have 50 to 60 nuclear warheads.

“Nuclear weapons, nuclear terrorism, nuclear proliferation everything is going in the wrong direction,” says Hecker.